Hidalgo County asks for AG opinion on COVID-19 public info request

Hidalgo County has requested an opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s office on whether it has to release communications about COVID-19 to The Monitor after the newspaper sought the information through a Texas Public Information Act.

The newspaper filed the request in an effort to learn more about the county’s response to and in preparation for COVID-19.

In the last week, closures and postponements have swelled across the county. People have been sent home from work and some businesses have been ordered to close doors.

The county has placed a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and has sent many of its employees home. There is also a ban on gatherings of 10 or more people, prompting local officials to stream government meetings online as opposed to allowing residents inside meeting rooms.

As of Wednesday afternoon, officials have said that seven people have tested positive, including a Mission City Council member. A total of 164 have been tested, with 110 negative results and 47 pending results.

Much of these developments have happened over the span of a single week.

In its request, the newspaper sought all communication, including emails, texts and written communications, between Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez, the county’s health department, its public relation officials and other county personnel.

The county’s letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton states that local officials here believe some of the requested information is not subject to release under the Texas Public Information Act.

A county attorney argues that the requested information relates to disease and attorney-client privilege between the county and its counsel, which the county believes is not subject to an open records request.

However, the county also says it will release some of the information the newspaper requested in a cost estimate letter as the responsive documents requested are voluminous.

This includes information that does not raise privacy concerns or that is confidential.